On Wednesday I will have my COVID retest, annnnd I hope to have an answer by Thursday or Friday if I am fit for public consumption. I hope so: being in quarantine is a bit like being in a nursing home. You can’t leave, no one comes to visit, and that toddle out to the mailbox followed by lunch is as exciting as the day gets. At least I have books!
First up, The Persian Puzzle, a history of Iranian-American relations from a CIA insider. The author’s connection to DC’s mischief-makers gave me some pause, but I’ve read a history like this from an Iranian insider, so it’s only fair. Pollack opens with a history of Iranian history, with a particular focus on its abuse by the Brits & Russians, who parceled the country between themselves: at first it was valuable for its closeness to India, but after the Great War began, its petroleum resources made it a valuable tug-of-war object. The United States entered the picture in earnest after WW2, out of concern than that the Iranian king would in his attempts to play one side against the other, make Iran a Soviet satellite. That led to DC joining Britain in trying to manage Iranian politics. What follows is a history of familiar ground — though, not surprisingly, Pollack downplays the US role in the shah’s abuses. Instead, he argues that Pahlavi was largely empowered and driven by the oil economy, to the point that DC had little real influence on him after he was fixed in power in the 1950s. Pollack also argues that DC was largely dragged into Iranian politics thereafter, placing much of the blame on Khomeini’s aggressive foreign policy, in which he intended to export the revolution across the middle east and ‘redeem’ Baghdad and Jerusalem. Had I not just read Black Flag, in which a Lebanese author supported that contention from her own perspective, my well-earned contempt for the CIA might have had me looking more askance at Pollack’s view. Persian Puzzle is a useful perspective to pair with others, and I was intrigued to see that in 2004 he promoted the same view that Obama would adopt, a dual-track engagement and containment policy that worked to isolate Iran diplomatically while offering a way forward.
Next up, Command and Control, a history of the growth of nuclear arms in DC and Russia, juxtaposed with a two-day history of a deadly accident at a Titan 2 base in Damascus, Arkansas. I’d never heard of the Damascus accident, so I was particularly caught up in the blow-by-blow history of that sad affair, and alarmed to learn how many nuclear accidents there have been over the years. As Schlosser notes, regardless of the training and the mechanical fail-safes, the sheer amount of nuclear arms coupled with human fallibility means that the odds of an accident happening are not insignificant. The Damascus incident was kicked off by a technician dropping a socket wrench — which made an improbable bounce and kicked off a chain of events that saw the entire site closed. Considering how many are known, it’s impressive that nothing more deadly has happened: Schlosser shares stories of plane crashes and accidental bomb-drops that left me shaking my head in disbelief. The other track of the book, covering the slow-at-first- and then astonishingly quick growth of nuclear arms, along with the changes in pop culture and government strategy, is also of great interest.
Last was The Secret Life of Backyard Bugs, which is a photo-heavy survey of various bugs, insects, and spiders and their life cycles. The authors have their preferences — a third of the book is devoted to butterflies and moths — but they include useful tables on what things to plant to promote greater insect biodiversity.
To follow this week: a post that’s alllllllll about Germans.